Best Books on Creative Leadership


One thing I love most is browsing other people's bookshelves - whether it's in their office or in their home. Because I think more than anything else it helps you to really feel where that person is coming from (and, importantly, where they are going).

My bookshelves in my office are overflowing with titles spanning psychology, military history, colonial history, behavioural science and economics, persuasion, communication skills, and creativity and innovation, plus a bit more creativity and innovation, and then a few more lying on the side about creativity and innovation.

I recently had a chat with a new contact in Hong Kong and he wanted to get a better feeling for where my head was at in terms of my take on creative thinking and innovation.

This forced me to think: what would be my top 5 books on the subject?

So I narrowed it down to these, which I share with you in the hope that you might understand me better but, more importantly, understand yourself and your creative leadership style, attitude, and skills, better:

1. Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull (co-founder of Pixar). By far the best breakdown of what leading real creatives in a curious organisation looks like.

2. BOYD, by Robert Coram. Amazing story of a gutsy self-made man who challenged the common wisdom of combat flying (and the entire Pentagon thought process). Stood up to one of the biggest toughest bureaucracies in the world, and won. The ultimate intrapreneur. He invented the OODA Loop which is being taught in cutting-edge innovation programs to this day. How is this NOT a Netflix movie already? I love this guy and I might write the screenplay.

3. Mavericks at Work, by Taylor and LeBarre. A delightful collection of examples where fresh new thinking and colouring outside of the lines has created great big revenue opportunities or entire new businesses. Everyone is regarded as an outsider upstart ... until you're not. And that's the point - the OTHERS just don't get it - YET!

4. The Innovator's DNA, by Gregerson, Christenson, Dyer. Gregerson is one of my innovation heroes because he blends academia with practice-proven stuff that works in corporate reality (and Clay Christensen is no slouch either). In this book they study the greatest innovators and work out that there are 5 key behaviours that consistently differentiate them.

5. Originals by Adam Grant. They champion the fact that innovation comes from the least likely sources sometimes, but requires people to put up their hand even if it means going over their boss's head, challenges successful 200-year corporate mindsets, and is counter-intuitive (such as the entrepreneur who gives VCs reasons NOT to invest in his idea. Hint: it works!)

Of course, you'll be arguing with many of my choices, and wanting to draw up your own list. Don't worry - I'm arguing with myself, too!

So, I sneaked in a #6.

Then it was whether it was A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, or Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner?

After arm-wrestling with myself, and playing "paper, scissors, rock" (best of 3 of course), I included Freakonomics, because thy've turned it into a series of books, podcasts and a whole tribe of fans. And taught us not to take data at face value, and more importantly to challenge the data, and find the real soul in the story, with amazingly surprising conclusions. All wrapped up in great fun storytelling. Who woulda thought numbers could be so exciting?

So, that's MY five, er, six.

What's on YOUR list?

Hit me up here, either with your list, or with one favourite, or with one you think I should have included. Then I'll aggregate a list and share it with our community here so we all have some new inspiration to check out.

. Question Everything! Stu

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